With the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic becoming increasingly evident, one of the United Kingdom’s most important museums has revealed plans to cut a significant amount of jobs. The Tate museum network will make redundant the jobs of more staff than had been previously announced. More than 300 workers, or half of Tate’s commercial workforce, will lose their jobs, according to an email sent by Tate director Maria Balshaw to staff on Tuesday that was reviewed by ARTnews.
“We are now sharing the sad news that we will have to make 313 redundancies across Tate Enterprises,” Balshaw wrote. In a statement, Balshaw added that Tate Enterprises had “worked hard to protect as many jobs as possible.”
Previously, Tate had said it was making redundant around 200 jobs. Now, it is cutting significantly more positions than expected, despite being in the running for a multi-million pound government bailout. The redundancies have been denounced by trade union members, who are planning a series of strikes.
Across the U.K. arts sector, thousands of permanent jobs have been saved thanks to the government furlough scheme introduced in March. Through it, the treasury has paid out £31.7 billion to employers. The government pays for 80 percent of workers’ wages, with employers accounting for the rest. Nevertheless, employers could, and have, laid off workers in the scheme. With that scheme set to time out in October, fears of massive job losses are growing, and the redundancies being made at Tate are a sign that such anxiety is not unfounded.
The Tate’s peers, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, and the National Gallery, have so far avoided having to make redundancies. A representative for the Serpentine Galleries confirmed to ARTnews that it has been able to honor its fixed-term contracts, including with ones concerning artists.
In Balshaw’s email, she blamed the planned job losses on a predicted long-term drop in visitor numbers, which will greatly reduce Tate’s self-generated income. London’s leading museums are expecting an 80 percent drop in visitors due to Covid-19.
Staff working in the Tate’s shops, cafes, and restaurants will bear the brunt of the cuts, although those working in its publishing wing may also be affected. A series of protests—the first major strikes to happen at a U.K. art museum during the pandemic—is due to take place over the next two weeks, starting on August 18 outside Tate Modern. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has launched a fundraising campaign to help support its striking members.
PCS wants some of the possible £7 million ($9 million) the Tate is expected to receive from the U.K. government’s £1.57 billion (around $2 billion) cultural bailout to go toward saving more jobs. The Tate said it has already dipped into £5 million ($6. 5 million) from its reserves to support its commercial division during the lockdown, and argues that emergency funding cannot underwrite its commercial operation.
There was a demonstration outside Tate Modern on July 27, the day it reopened to the public after more than four months in lockdown, following the announcement of job cuts.
In addition to the Tate’s reported job losses, an unspecified number of people, many who work on fixed-term or casual contracts, have already lost their jobs. A Tate spokesperson declined to state how many staff have been affected, but said that members of the team that had worked with school groups visiting the museum as part of artist Steve McQueen’s epic portrait of 76,000 primary school pupils students across London did not have their contracts renewed in May. “Unfortunately, in line with government guidelines, there will be no school visits for the extended run,” of the “Year 3” exhibition, a Tate spokesperson told ARTnews. McQueen’s photographic installation, which fills Tate Britain’s monumental Duveen Galleries, is now due to close in January 2021. Tate said that it paid the affected staff until McQueen’s show was originally due to close on May 11.
Tate is not the only major London institution set to make redundancies. London’s Southbank Centre, which includes the Hayward Gallery, has announced that at least 365 members of staff, or 70 percent of its workforce, is at risk of redundancy. The National Theatre, which is based on the South Bank, has already told around 400 members of its front-of-house and back-stage staff that they will lose their jobs. Historic Royal Palaces, which runs the Tower of London among other heritage sites, is also planning to make staff redundant.
The government has pledged to protect England’s cultural institutions, but unions fear that means putting museums’ brands before jobs. As the cuts are falling first on lower-paid members of staff at the Tate, the PCS union has claimed on social media that the job losses will disproportionately affect Black and minority ethnic (BAME) employees. In her email to staff, Tate director Maria Balshaw addressed that claim.
“Identifying and mitigating any impact on the diversity of our organisation has been an important part of the consultation process,” she wrote.
“A lot of us are artists and musicians who count on this work to support our own creative practice,” a representative for the Tate PCS Union said. “We felt that the institution respected and encouraged us but when times are tough they have not stayed behind us and thought about how staff might be redeployed, or ways to innovate to bring in money in different ways.”